All orthodontists are dentists but not all dentists are orthodontists. Upon graduation from dental school, graduates can begin practicing dentistry or can continue on in their studies to specialize. The American Dental Association recognizes 10 specialties in the field of dentistry, including Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.
Orthodontists are dentists who went on to complete an additional two or three years of specialized training in a residency. During this residency, orthodontists learn how to move teeth properly and how to correct the bite, among many other things. Here’s what this means and why it matters.
We are Orthopedists
You may have noticed that the specialty the ADA recognizes is not “Orthodontics” but “Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics.” This is an important distinction. Orthopedists are doctors who deal with bones. A dentofacial orthopedist is someone who deals with the bones of the facial region, i.e., the jaw.
That’s because straightening teeth is not just straightening teeth. Forces applied to the teeth through braces or aligners actually cause bone in the jaw to dissolve and reform. This is how teeth are able to move to a new position and stay there.
As orthopedists, we also specialize in the guidance and normalization of facial growth and development. This occurs during childhood, as the jaw and face are still developing. We have advanced training in anatomy that allows us to diagnose and treat misalignments in the teeth, jaw, and facial structure at this crucial time.
Why This Matters
I bring this up because I think it’s important for people to understand why going to an orthodontist is the best choice when they want to straighten their teeth or fix problems with their bite. These days, more and more family dentists without specialized training in orthodontics have begun offering orthodontic treatment, specifically clear aligners, to their patients.
But by going to a non-specialist, patients may be setting themselves up for problems. A dentist may be able to straighten teeth but won’t know enough to recognize and treat underlying problems with the bite. Or they may provide treatment that later has to be fixed or re-done by an orthodontist. These are just a couple things that can happen when trusting orthodontic care to a non-orthodontist.
The bottom line is, as orthodontists, all we do day in and day out is orthodontic treatment. We have a level of training, knowledge, and experience that even the most avid general dentist can’t match.
The Right Professional for the Job
You’ve heard the expression “the right tool for the job.” It means that when you need a hammer, use a hammer. When you need a screwdriver, use a screwdriver. The same is true for any medical or dental care; you need the right specialist to treat your particular issue. You wouldn’t allow your family doctor to perform surgery on you, so why should you expect your family dentist to provide orthodontic treatment for you? Instead, go to a trained orthodontist who can give you the level of care you need. Get a referral from a trusted friend or use the American Association of Orthodontics website’s Find an Orthodontist tool to find one near you.